Help! I’m home with my new baby, how do I play with them?

Picture of Mind Body Baby
Mind Body Baby

Guest blog post
Jessica Crafton of Balanced Babies Therapy Services.
Jessica offers services that can help with all of these concerns. You can find her contact information on our Preferred Providers page.

Being a parent is TOUGH. Being a first-time parent is EVEN HARDER.

There is a lot of “prep” for when baby comes. We are reading books, taking newborn care classes, talking to other parents, and scrolling social media at all hours of the night. 

And when that new baby shows up, snuggles on your chest, some of that knowledge goes straight out the door. 

I wish every new parent could learn the benefit of starting their baby off with a great foundation for proper neurodevelopmental maturation and bonding. 

Babies need a combination of co-regulation and bonding with their caregivers and feeling the ground and weight of gravity in their new world.

Babies need us to help them feel safe and secure. This is why we snuggle, swaddle, and provide sucking opportunities. Sucking is the number one regulation tool for babies. It offers them a feeling of grounding, midline control, and whole-body relaxation. 

If sucking is the number one regulation tool for babies, what happens when their suck is “off?” Then, we see babies who have difficulty transferring milk at the breast or bottle, symptoms of reflux, colic, and are sometimes called “difficult to comfort.”

Do babies cry and fuss? Absolutely. Is there always a clear answer to what is wrong? Absolutely not. Could there be underlying tension and asymmetries contributing to their distress? Absolutely. 

If sucking is the way babies find the middle of their body to feel safe and secure, imagine if their tongue couldn’t move the way it’s supposed to?

There’s lot of talk out there about tethered oral ties. Are they a fad? No. Is there more talk of them now and their impact on feeding and whole-body function? Yep. 

Babies are curled up for nine months. Do you think their tongue will just automatically be able to extend, cup the nipple, do all the things it needs to do? Maybe? But it may need some help.

We can help the baby through sucking and other intra-oral activities, work their tongue to improve mobility and function. The tongue is the epicenter of development, of midline control, it HAS to be able to move properly.

Ok so now the tongue has more mobility but imagine if the rest of their body isn’t properly lined up? And how would that be possible?

A variety of reasons: Position in the womb. Birth process. NICU stay. Limited time in different positions.

Imagine if you were trying to eat and your body was twisted, or your neck favored to go to one side, or your tongue had limited range of motion? It would be hard, and you would probably have a tummy ache! Try turning your head to the side and swallowing. It’s tricky, right?

Babies were curled up in flexion in the womb and now that they’re out in the world of gravity, BAM! That’s a big difference. Babies need to be placed in different positions including their back, sides, and belly. They need to feel the sensation of being put in these different positions. Imagine if someone just put you smack on your belly and you were not expecting or ready for it? You might be pissed! As humans, we use transitional movements to get into different positions and babies should be handled the same way. 

Our vestibular system or the body’s system of movement and balance is the first sensory system to develop in the womb. This system detects movement and gravitational pull, providing this information regarding the position of our head through our inner ears. We tend to pick up babies in the frontal plane of movement which provides limited feedback to our inner ears. Staying the same plane of the body, (frontal, sagittal, or transverse) can make it difficult to start to transition to the other planes of the body when we are expected to start moving.  

Imagine being expected to start rolling over but you’ve never spent time on the side of your body? It would feel awkward, probably hard, and you might just flop back onto your back. 

Babies do have a natural sense of movement, an intrinsic motivation to learn about their environment, and will they figure it out? Yes! And can we help them figure it out without establishing compensatory patterns? Yes! Compensatory patterns can look like flinging their head backwards to roll onto their belly vs leading with their arms. Or pushing through their feet on their back vs flexing their hips. 

Babies are smart. Their little brains are developing faster in these first twelve months than they ever will again. They will figure out how to move their body in the way that feels best to them. We, as their caregivers, should be there to help guide them, establish proper neurological pathways, and ensure proper motor development. 

Early intervention is key. Avoid “wait and see” ideologies. If you have a gut instinct that there could be a better way, an easier way, or that “something is off.” Find your people. There are experts out there who can help. No question is a dumb one. Now, get out there and roll your baby around like a rotisserie chicken. Gently, of course 😊

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